Fare Dealer

Rail (UK) - - Contents - Barry Doe

RAIL fares ex­pert Barry Doe de­fends the Vir­gin Trains East Coast fares in­crease.

THE RMT union re­cently is­sued a vit­ri­olic press re­lease con­demn­ing the Vir­gin Trains East Coast (VTEC) fare rises that take place on Septem­ber 4. This was picked up by the me­dia, mainly be­cause of their mis­taken be­lief that fares only go up in Jan­uary.

The union’s mo­tive was merely its dis­like of VTEC be­cause it re­placed East Coast. Run by Di­rectly Op­er­ated Rail­ways, East Coast (EC) had been per­ceived by the RMT as ‘na­tion­alised’ - hence good.

Well, I’d like Bri­tish Rail back, but EC fell way short of that and in my view was poorly man­aged. Any­way, what the RMT ig­nored was that many VTEC fares didn’t rise at all last Jan­uary, and when VTEC took over from EC it low­ered many fares.

It is there­fore timely to look in de­tail at the re­cent his­tory. I’ll com­pare VTEC with Vir­gin West Coast (VTWC). Manch­ester and Leeds lend them­selves to com­par­isons be­cause King’s Cross to Leeds is 186 miles while Lon­don to Manch­ester is just un­der 184 miles via Stoke-on-Trent or 189 miles via Crewe.

In 2010 a Stan­dard Any­time Re­turn from Lon­don to Leeds was £223. To Manch­ester it was £262. By 2012 they were £249 and £296 re­spec­tively. Leeds was then held at £249, while by 2015 Manch­ester had risen to £308.

VTEC took over in March 2015 and in May low­ered the Leeds Any­time Re­turn to £224. It was un­changed last Jan­uary. Mean­while Manch­ester is now £332.

Septem­ber’s tiny fares rise to which the RMT so much ob­jects will take Leeds to £226 - around the level it was six years ago. Manch­ester used to be 17% dearer than Leeds, whereas now it’s 47% more ex­pen­sive.

Where VTEC does come off worse than VTWC is with its Off-Peak Re­turns. The (reg­u­lated) OP Re­turn to Manch­ester - the old Saver - is a very rea­son­able £82.40. VTEC has

two lev­els: the reg­u­lated Su­per OP Re­turn at £104.30 and the OP Re­turn at £161.60.

The time re­stric­tions are roughly the same for VTWC’s OP Re­turns and VTEC’s Su­per OP Re­turns, and the rea­son the Leeds fare is 26% dearer than Manch­ester’s is not the fault of ei­ther oper­a­tor, but mere his­tory. It re­flects the lev­els at the end of the Bri­tish Rail era.

De­spite the mod­erni­sa­tion of the West Coast (as a re­sult of which BR would have had some jus­ti­fi­able real price in­creases), VTWC has to keep reg­u­lated fares at sub-stan­dard lev­els for ev­er­more!

VTEC’s OP re­turns are not reg­u­lated, be­ing a higher level of­fer­ing an in­ter­me­di­ate fare be­tween the Su­per OP and the Any­time. Great Western Rail­way and East Mid­lands Trains also have these, but VTWC has never in­tro­duced them.

With the higher VTEC OP re­turn you can leave Lon­don from 0759, and the evening bar is only 1558 to 1745 Mon­day-Thurs­day. OP Re­turns can be used on any evening train on Fri­days. How­ever, with VTWC’s OP re­turn you can’t leave Lon­don un­til 0926, and the evening bar is 1501 to 1844 Mon­day-Fri­day.

This is what leads to ter­ri­ble over­crowd­ing on Fri­day nights at Eus­ton, as peo­ple have to wait to 1857 to use an £82.40 OP Re­turn to Manch­ester - the 1840 would re­quire a £332 Any­time Re­turn!

Yet out of King’s Cross on a Fri­day evening the £226 Any­time Re­turn is never needed. The £161.60 OP Re­turn ap­plies un­til the 1803 train (half the peak Manch­ester fare), and the Su­per OP £104.30 fare is valid from 1833.

Of course, peo­ple might well use a mix­ture of sin­gles and I am us­ing these as il­lus­tra­tions, but it shows the huge ad­van­tages of an in­ter­me­di­ate tier of fares.

In­ci­den­tally, from Septem­ber VTEC re­stric­tions are re­versible, in that those on the out­ward leg of a re­turn from Lon­don will be the same as for the re­turn leg of one to Lon­don.

VTWC has re­cently said it would like to have air­line-style com­pul­sory book­ings in the peaks, but ad­mits it wouldn’t be al­lowed to do so. I’m glad, be­cause that would be to­tally against the ad­van­tage of rail as a walk-on mode.

Is this a re­flec­tion on the higher per­cent­age of Vir­gin own­er­ship on VTWC (with its air­line phi­los­o­phy), as op­posed to hav­ing far less in­flu­ence than its 90% Stage­coach-dom­i­nated part­ner on VTEC? Stage­coach cer­tainly has the more ad­ven­tur­ous ideas.

All VTWC needs to do is look at other op­er­a­tors - es­pe­cially its VTEC neigh­bour - to see how over­crowd­ing can be mit­i­gated by a sec­ond tier of off-peak fares, plus some Fri­day changes.

VTEC’s mis­take - as with most op­er­a­tors - is that hav­ing achieved the right bal­ance of walkon fares it then floods the sys­tem with very cheap ad­vance fares, which lead to over­crowd­ing. But that’s an­other is­sue! Vir­gin Trains East Coast 0752 Aberdeen-King’s Cross passes Ham­ble­ton South (York­shire) on July 30. VTEC fares will rise on Septem­ber 4. LES NIXON.

“What the RMT ig­nored was that many VTEC fares didn’t rise at all last Jan­uary, and when VTEC took over from EC it low­ered many fares.”

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